How to Grow Alliums

MOTHER'S vegetable garden shares how to grow alliums, including the history and horticulture of alliums, what, where, when and how to plant, pests, and how to harvest and store alliums.


| November/December 1987



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These edible alliums—members of the Liliaceae, or tile family—pep up meat, and poultry, lend a crispy crunch to salads, give soul to soups, are essential to stir-fries and can be creamed, fried, baked or pickled standalone dishes.

PHOTO: FOOD STYLING SUSAN ERDMANN

MOTHER'S vegetable garden shares how to grow alliums. These members of the Liliaceae family include onions, leeks and garlic, and are the pungent kings of the culinary world. 

How to Grow Alliums

How dull many of our meals would be without onions, leeks, shallots, chives and garlic! These edible alliums—members of the Liliaceae, or tile family—pep up meat, and poultry, lend a crispy crunch to salads, give soul to soups, are essential to stir-fries and can be creamed, fried, baked or pickled standalone dishes. Besides being tasty and low in calories, onions are healthful, too. The vegetables antiseptic quality makes it a valuable poultice for infections; onion juice sweetened with honey is good for cough and colds; and the fresh vegetable acts as a diuretic, improves low blood pressure and helps control vertigo. Additionally, when cultivated, harvested and stored properly, garden-grown alliums can be enjoyed year-round.

Fortunately, humans have seldom been without these versatile plants. Members of the onion family have flourished in cultivation so long that their origins are uncertain. Some think they were first grown in Mongolia; others opt for Asia Minor. Onions are mentioned in the Old Testament and were in the diets of those who built the Egyptian pyramids. Alliums helped sustain the ancient Greeks, and garlic was considered essential for empire-building Roman soldiers. On this continent, wild onions flavored the meals of American Indians for centuries before Europeans arrived. Happily, alliums are easy to grow—some easier than others. In fact, one member or another of the onion family will survive in almost any soil or climate, but different varieties do have specific requirements, so let's look at them separately.

How to Grow Onions (Allium cepa)

Onions come in all shapes and sizes: round (including globe types, small pear or pickling onions and the large Spanish varieties); flat, flat-wide, flat-round and half-flat (the mild-flavored Bermuda onions); top-shaped or pear-shaped onions (Grano types); and the high-yield, spindle-shaped Red Torpedo, grown chiefly in California. Many also come in red, yellow or white versions, and new varieties are developed all the time. While most onions can be utilized as scallions when they're young, perennial bunching types ( Allium perutile and Allium fisulosum ) produce superior scallions and are also practically immune to pests and diseases. Another perennial— Allium cepa solanium , known as a multiplier or potato onion—is propagated by a division of underground bulbs, with each bulb multiplying into a bulb cluster. And we mustn't overlook the remarkable Egyptian onion ( Allium cepa vivaparum ), which produces a bulb cluster at the end of a long stem with a second cluster frequently forming on top of the first. Egyptian onions also have underground bulbs, but these are so strong that usually only the above ground bulbs are used.

What Varieties of Onion to Plant

Your choice of allium variety will be determined by climate and by whether you prefer seeds, transplants or sets.

For example, you should always check a cultivar's day-length requirement. Long-day varieties need the 13 to 16 hours of daylight of Northern summers to mature. Short-day types (such as Bermuda and Sweet Spanish) thrive in milder climates with only 12 hours of daylight.





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